Creating the unexpected

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Bird Skemp’s favorite way to create jewelry: sitting cross-legged on her living room floor, while the afternoon sun filters through the windows of her rural McGregor home. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Bird Skemp creates primarily earrings, but some necklaces and bracelets, as well. Her “Baubles by Bird” are available locally at The Left Bank Shop and Gallery, in McGregor, and The Planted Tree and the Huckleberry’s Restaurant gift shop, in Prairie du Chien.

No, these earrings aren’t made of metal, but rather paper, enhanced by beads, paint and unique textures.

“I don’t look at what the styles are. I’m selling to people who don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing,” said Bird. “My jewelry is going to be unique, artsy, handmade.”

Jewelry making a life-changing experience for Skemp

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Jewelry maker Bird Skemp does her best work sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, a cat nestled in her lap, as the afternoon sun filters through the windows of her rural McGregor home and Judge Judy drones on the TV.

“I put something on just for the noise,” she quipped.

She can work for hours this way, in her makeshift studio, surrounded by baskets and containers bursting with beads, tools, paints and paper scraps.

“Once I get into a groove, it goes fast. I let it go where it’s going to go,” Bird explained. “It’s my happy place.”

A bookkeeper by trade, with springy, dark hair falling across her forehead, dressed in a casual T-shirt and shorts, Bird admitted her hobby sometimes catches people off-guard.

“I started late in life for someone making jewelry,” she said. “And I don’t look like someone who makes cool, funky earrings. I don’t look like what people expect.”

But when it comes to creating jewelry, it’s the unexpected that’s set Bird apart.

———

Bird’s jewelry-making journey began around 10 years ago.

“I fell into making jewelry by accident,” she reflected. “I had anxiety and started taking medication.” 

While some fear meds will chase away their artistry, for Bird, it was the opposite. 

“I got brave,” she said. “I got creative.”

Inspecting an expensive bracelet in a gift shop while on vacation in Cheyenne, Wyo., she thought, “I can do this. It doesn’t look that hard to make.”

So, with friend Pat Balk at her side, Bird gave it a try. Today, she fashions mainly earrings, but some necklaces and bracelets, as well.

Her early work predominantly featured stones and lampwork glass beads. She loved the variety of colors—the different designs, shapes and sizes.

“But I wanted to come up with something that other people didn’t do,” Bird said.

Naturally, she turned to paper.

“I tend to like big earrings,” Bird explained. “With paper earrings, they look like metal, but they’re so light. You can have huge ones on, but you don’t feel it.”

But these paper creations are sturdy, with pieces layered and stuck together with glue. Bird enhances them with beads and stones, colorful paints and unique textures: string, fabric, dried flowers, bumpy disposable coffee sleeves or even the netted layers of a furnace filter.

“Sometimes I get them wet and see what happens,” she said. “You just play with it. It can turn into a different texture that turns into a beautiful earring.”

Bird’s creativity doesn’t end there. She’s formed jewelry using everything from small light bulbs, tintypes and river rocks to paper plates and felt.

“I can make earrings out of anything—stuff that’s not intended to be earrings. There’s no limit,” she shared. “I just try to open my mind and see something a different way. I look at something and think, ‘Can I make earrings out of this?’”

If it’s small enough and light enough, she can.

Among Bird’s supplies is what she calls an “idea box,” which contains groups of beads or stones she thinks pair well together. She often turns to this for inspiration when creating a new piece. Other times, it’s textures, wall paper samples—even coffee-stained paper—that sparks her imagination.

Some earring sets take 15 minutes to create, while others can take days.

“Each one is its own process,” Bird said. “It’s like making a painting. You look at it and it’s either not enough or you’ve done too much.”

Some earring pairs are purposefully a bit different. One hangs slightly lower than the other, or one features a different colored bead.

“I grew up in Denver and started wearing non-matching, but similar, earrings,” Bird said. “So I started making them too.”

“I don’t look at what the styles are. I’m selling to people who don’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing,” Bird added. “My jewelry is going to be unique, artsy, handmade.”

No piece is exactly like another.

———

Today, her “Baubles by Bird” can be found in roughly 20 locations in the U.S., including locally at The Left Bank Shop and Gallery, in McGregor, and The Planted Tree and the Huckleberry’s Restaurant gift shop, in Prairie du Chien.

Bird dreams of someday selling her jewelry in every state. When she travels, she scopes out potential shops, to see if her style fits.

“Then, I just ask, and take my jewelry and spread it out,” she said. “They pick whatever they want.”

Not every shop sells the same style of jewelry. Bird bases the selection off the store’s and the community’s vibes. For example, in McGregor, jewelry made of river stones is popular. 

Bird said she’s happy to create pieces that people love.

“It makes you feel good, to be accepted,” she commented. “You’re putting yourself out there and hoping someone likes what you do.”

Jewelry making is more than just a hobby or a small business for Bird. It’s a cathartic experience.

“It’s such a stress reliever. If I go for awhile without making anything, I get cranky. I need to get on the floor and make something,” she stated. “In five minutes, I’m not thinking about what was bothering me. It’s the one thing that can completely distract me.

“It’s been a life-changing experience.”

Bird also creates custom jewelry. If you’d like to learn more, visit www.baublesbybird.com, email baublesbybird@yahoo.com or call (563) 873-2320.

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